Now, by adapting an off-the-shelf portable x-ray lab tool that analyzes the composition of chemicals, Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations can reveal hidden information about a tablet's composition without damaging the precious ancient find itself. These x-rays reveal the soil and clay composition of a tablet or artefact, to help determine its precise origin.Well, maybe, but it could be a lot of other things too, such as a local administrative tablet. There's not very much of it. It's exciting to be able to harvest so much new data with technology, but it's also important not to over-interpret the evidence.
But Prof. Goren's process, based on x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry, can go much further. Over the years, he has collected extensive data through physical "destructive" sampling of artefacts. By comparing this data to readouts produced by the XRF device, he's built a table of results so that he can now scan a tablet - touching the surface of it gently with the machine - and immediately assess its clay type and the geographical origin of its minerals.
The tool, he says, can also be applied to coins, ancient plasters, and glass, and can be used on site or in a lab. He plans to make this information widely available to other archaeological researchers.
In his recent study published in the Israel Exploration Journal, Prof. Goren and his colleagues investigated a Late Bronze Age letter written in the Akkadian language and found among the Ophel excavations in Jerusalem.
Its style suggests that it is a rough and contemporary tablet of the Amarna letters - letters written from officials throughout the Middle East to the Pharaohs in Egypt around 3,500 years ago, pre-biblical times. Using his device, Prof. Goren was able to determine that the letter is made from raw material typical to the Terra Rossa soils of the Central Hill Country around Jerusalem. This determination helped to confirm both the origin of the letter and possibly its sender.
"We believe this is a local product written by Jerusalem scribes, made of locally available soil. Found close to an acropolis, it is also likely that the letter fragment does in fact come from a king of Jerusalem," the researchers reported, adding that it may well be an archival copy of a letter from King Abdi-Heba, a Jesubite king in Jerusalem, to the Pharaoh in nearby Egypt.
Background here and notice this regarding speculation about the contents of the tablet.